A Review of Ry David Bradley: 21th Century at PM/AM Gallery, London
Tucked away on a busy street in Marylebone, a discreet white door reads PM/AM. Down a steep flight of steps there is a small, dimly lit room. It has a minimalistic feel: white walls, low ceiling, grey concrete floor. The faint yellow lines tell of the room’s former life: an underground car park. Founded in early 2015 by Patrick Barstow and Lee Colwill, PM/AM is a gallery space, which aims to challenge the existing models that we use to interact with art. By introducing 3D glasses and ocular manipulation, Ry David Bradley’s exhibition, 21th Century does just that.
Juxtaposing the white and grey setting are Bradley’s kaleidoscopic pieces. French impressionism immediately springs to mind, as the paintings are reminiscent of Monet’s Water Lilies. The majority of the pieces are fringed with what appears to be reeds, while red lilies float upon blue waters. The colours are vivid, and the strokes are expressive and dynamic. Titled at different angles, five are suspended from the ceiling, hanging like ethereal gardens.
However, these paintings are not paintings in a literal sense. Bradley, a proud member of the post-internet generation, created these pieces through digital techniques. Yet moving away from Virtual Reality, (a hyper real experience that you need technology to see), Bradley is interested in tangible art that is permanent, timeless and simultaneously historic. To do this, he transfers his paintings onto rich velvety textures to capture a digital presence in a stable moment. As a result, the paintings have a digital texture, reminding one of a glowing plasma TV screen.
Adding a further dimension to the pieces, Bradley’s work adopts the early 20th-century technique, anaglyphic stereo. It is a process that uses colour theory to provide an illusory depth to images by using 3D lenses. So in order to read the other narratives behind these pieces, the viewer must wear a pair of 3D glasses.
When looking at #2 without the glasses, one sees metallic gold reeds and lilies entwined with electric blue and pink strokes. With the glasses, the painting is even more ghostly and luminous. Like Gerhard Richter’s blurred paintings, the piece shifts out of focus and becomes a floating shadow—this phantasmagorical quality is further heightened by the fact that the painting is suspended in mid air.
As you close one eye and look through the red lens, you find the image is stripped down to two colours. It now resembles a ghostly blackboard, with the gold metallic tone becoming a chalk like colour, against a dark, almost black background. Then looking through the blue lens, the image completely transforms and the composition is almost unrecognisable. The gold metallic colour fades into the background, becoming a murky green, while bright pastel blue strokes take centre stage.
The 3D glasses engage the audience in an original way, and enable the paintings to flicker like a moving image—they therefore become cinematic. Our vision vibrates, mimicking the way we see a screen and the glow and movement of technology. An indeterminate time period is created as Bradley looks back, usurping the two 1950's popular techniques: 3D glasses and acrylic paint, while using modern digital rendering to produce a contemporary 'screenic' image. Bradley recognises the ubiquitous nature of blue screens in our culture, maintaining that ‘we are screenic’, as we can no longer differentiate between real and hyper real. Bradley mutates analogue techniques, as he believes that traditional painting methods can no longer capture the transient and ever evolving technological world.
There are many ways of looking at each painting, therefore Bradley engages with a world where multiple realities coexist. As I experimented with the 3D glasses while looking at #6, I felt a story was slowly being revealed to me. Without the glasses, a fringe of red reeds frames the painting, while red lilies float on the water. As you look through the blue lens the lilies completely disappear. A cold and sombre painting replaces the once vividly colourful image. The glow and shine disappears and the whole painting is tinted a mysterious blue colour. The bold red reeds also transform into a dark blue tone. The painting gains a haunting depth that it did not have before, as the lilies sadly float away.
Through the plurality of existing images, Bradley pre-empts a future of wearable computers. He engages with the concept of MR, ‘mixed reality’: when glasses will superimpose data onto the real world. 21th Century is therefore liminal, as it simultaneously engages with different periods of time, while glimpsing towards a more technologically focused future. It is a rewarding exhibition experience, and with the multiple layers of narrative, one feels as though you have been on a visionary journey that is partly set in the 21st century, but one that also flirts with the past.
The exhibition was on from 28th April until June 8th, PM/AM Gallery.
Written by Harriet Kean, a Contributor to Arteviste.